Ireland has the second highest booster vaccine uptake among adults in the EU, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said, as the number of Covid patients in ICU drops to its lowest level in almost two months.
Since Monday, over 386,000 people have received a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccines in a combination of walk-in vaccination centres, appointments based systems in vaccination centres and from their local GP and pharmacies.
A total of 1.84 million additional Covid-19 vaccines have been administered since the booster programme began. On Thursday, 83,872 vaccines were administered.
Over 8,200 people have also presented for their first vaccine dose or second vaccine dose this week.
Meanwhile, there were 393 confirmed cases of the virus in hospitals on Friday morning and 89 Covid patients in intensive care. That is the lowest number of Covid patients in ICU since November 10th.
In a statement on Friday, Minister Donnelly thanked those involved with the vaccination booster programme, particularly given the expansion of the programme announced this week.
“I don’t underestimate the logistical challenges that these demands have placed on the HSE, but it has responded brilliantly,” he said.
“I’d like to thank everyone working in our health and social care services. That includes everyone working in our hospitals and in the community, as well as those working in GP and dental practices, pharmacies, nursing homes, our ambulance service, the Department of Health and other public bodies and teams.”
Speaking to those directly working in health and social care, Mr Donnelly acknowledged how their work during the pandemic will have had an impact on their personal and social lives.
“I hope you get some well-deserved down-time this Christmas and would like to wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy Christmas,” he added.
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Expansion of booster programme
Damian McCallion, the HSE lead for the vaccination programme, said the booster campaign should hit the two million mark in the coming days.
Overall, the system was “working well”, he said. It will be closed for Christmas Day and December 26th, before reopening on the 27th.
From December 29th, the vaccination campaign will expand to include people aged 30 to 39 years through vaccination centres and pharmacies. Some GPs were already vaccinating this group, he said.
Those who received the one shot Janssen dose will also be offered the booster vaccine from December 29th, this will initially be through GPs and pharmacies and eventually through vaccination centres.
Mr McCallion added that from January 10th all other adults aged 16 to 29 years will be able to avail of the booster vaccine and children aged five years to 11 years will be able to get their first dose.
Children with underlying health conditions will be offered their vaccination from January 3rd, along with children where there are vulnerable people in their household. The portal for appointments will open on December 28th.
On the recent increase in cases, Mr McCallion said he State’s PCR testing system has come “under pressure in the past 48 hours”.
People seeking a test would be able to avail of one on Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day, but there will be a “slightly reduced service”, he said.
“I know it’s difficult for people waiting for results but the advice remains the same, if you have symptoms you should isolate,” he told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.
Mr McCallion said the system is now at a “record number of laboratory tests”, with over 235,000 conducted in the past seven days.
He added that while it appears there are no PCR slots available on the website at the moment, “there will be slots available over the day as we look at the attendance rates and referral rates from GPs”.
Meanwhile, Dr Brendan O’Shea, a Kildare GP and assistant adjunct professor in public health and primary care at Trinity College Dublin, has called on the public to observe public health measures and if they display any symptoms to immediately isolate and seek a PCR test.
“If people are sloppy or boozy schmoozy then it will spread,”he warned on Newstalk Breakfast.
Dr O’Shea also encouraged people to support Unicef’s vaccine campaign for less developed countries.
“Get on to Unicef’s website. You don’t need more jumpers or aftershave. If you support the vaccine campaign you can give someone a real Christmas.”
The most important thing people could do at present was to slow the “rise of penetration of Omicron”. It was vital to act quickly and stop the spread of the new variant, he added.
“That’s the best way of handling this.”